The Tipping Point

How do seemingly not-connected trends converge into creating a 'tipping point'? Are these trends open to manipulation? Malcolm Gladwell provides a framework to understanding the social process behind evolving 'tipping points'.

Gladwell, Malcolm, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, Back Bay Books, 2002.

This book maps the revolutionary dynamics responsible for the birth of various 'tipping points'. These dynamics include three major forces, usually brought forward by members of society:

  • 'Mavens' - these are often knowledgeable people. Gladwell turns the readers' attention to the fact that often times people don't develop enough knowledge on an issue but rather take an 'expert' opinion on it. This monopoly over knowledge provides the mavens with enormous social power on one hand, but prevents them from re-visiting their own assumptions. This, in turn, brings about irrelevant mindsets.

  • Connectors/Hubs - the 'hubs' of the human social network shorten the access to mass crowds through their own personal relationships.

  • Salesmen/Market people - Salesmen are charismatic people with powerful negotiation skills. They exert "soft" influence rather than forceful power. Their source of influence may be the tendency of others, subconsciously, to imitate them rather than techniques of conscious persuasion.

Other key concepts in The Tipping Point are:

  • The Law of the Few. Those with the skill sets described above have disproportionate influence over the spread of social phenomena, and without their aid, such dissemination is unlikely ever to occur.

  • Stickiness: Ideas or products found attractive or interesting by others will grow exponentially for some time.

  • The Power of Context: Human behavior is strongly influenced by external variables of context. For example, "zero tolerance" efforts to combat minor crimes such as fare-beating and vandalism on the New York subway led to a decline in more violent crimes; the perception of increased vigilance altered the behavior and attitudes of the passengers. Gladwell also describes the bystander effect.

  • The Magic Number 150. The research behind Dunbar's number suggests an individual can only have genuine social relationships with 150 people. Likewise, groups larger than 150 are prone to fragmentation, and it is often best for the group's health that it split. Most extant hunter-gatherer villages, as well as military companies also stay just shy of this number.

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